THE BLOG

Faculty vs. Staff: The Cage Match From Which No One Emerges Victorious

03/06/2015 01:48 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015

Attention faculty! We're under attack! Suit up your armor and brandish your weapons!

I just received a mass email from Kim Geron, Professor and Chair in the Department of Political Science at California State University, on behalf of Faculty Forward, a consortium of faculty focused on equality, via raising faculty pay.

The email boldly declares, "The university has changed and the priorities are being set not by faculty, but by administrators, many of whom have no experience in research and teaching... While faculty positions have declined and those that remain have deteriorated, administrative positions have grown."

What heresy is this? We must immediately paint our faces, take to our horses, be inspired by a motivational speech in a Scottish accent and face down the enemy trying to take away our freedom! As the email goads us, "It's up to us to restore the focus of our schools on teaching, research and student learning." Onward to battle!

Or... OR!... We could actually take a breath, dismount from our destriers, and, ya know, reframe this approach?

Look, I'm all for creating a sense of urgency to inspire meaningful change. And certainly there is crucial work to be done to address adjunct pay inequities. But to do it in such a way that further deepens an already-felt divide between faculty and staff/administrators seems to be counterproductive to the goal of bolstering teaching, research and student learning.

This separation between faculty and staff/administrators is nothing new. Nor should it be surprising. We actually do different things. Heck, we even define words differently. Take the word "summer."

Faculty define "summer" as, "A time when faculty are prepping for the upcoming academic year and when decisions that affect how/where faculty teach should be forestalled until the new year reconvenes."

Staff define "summer" as, "A time when the college is actually, ya know, open and when work has to get done that can't necessarily wait until the faculty return in the Fall."

Cue misunderstandings and conflict.

And that's just a conversation on summer! If you've ever tried to have a conversation about something more substantial like, say, salaries, you know that discomfort can come and come quick. When I was an administrator, I had a close friendship with a faculty friendship that quickly tanked the moment I stupidly answered her question about my salary. After my sharing, she would, at every conceivable opportunity, make a snarky comment about how overpaid I was as an administrator. I would counter with the fact that I worked 11 ½ months a year compared to her 7 ½ months and that, if you re-proportioned her salary to my schedule, her pay would far dwarf mine. Now, I sit on the faculty side of the university and have my salary questioned in the same way even as I feel echoes of her arguments about to leave my lips to my administrator colleagues.

Again, faculty and staff/administrators do different things. That part really and truly is not going to change. So, instead of sending out global emails from the Jets excoriating the Sharks, here are some ideas that would might bring us together.

Feature staff/administrator profiles on the website alongside faculty. Talk to any staff/administrator about their issues with the faculty and the word "respect" comes up over and over again. As in: a lack of it. Staff/administrators are routinely told that students come to the college for the academics, and thus by extension, the faculty. Absolutely. But turn to our graduating seniors and they will routinely report back that it was a staff member who helped them at a critical time or wrote that key recommendation letter or were a much-needed mentor. So let's validate those staff/administrator contributions on on our websites and put some of their profiles alongside those of the faculty as a selling point.

Every staff/administration search committee should have a faculty representative. Do staff/administrators often have more of a sense of what faculty do than the other way around? Yes. But it's on staff/administrators to take the lead in changing that. Invite faculty onto your search committees. And I mean for everything. Not just the new Dean of Students, but also for the Hall Directors and the Career Coordinators. At minimum, you have one more faculty member who understands a staff position. But you also have likely created a faculty ally who will be able to more articulately talk about the importance of that staff position when that conversation about "staff creep" (a truly dreadful term used to describe increase in administrators) is raised.

Create joint work between the two groups. So this is obviously the hardest one. Get this: we're all busy. Insanely, manically busy. The idea that we may have to slow down on a project to bring in a faculty member to a co-curricular conversation or to invite a staff/administrator to an academic matter is as groan-inducing as it is inaccurate. Our collective capability to have dialogue about issues not directly connected to our focus area has never ceased to disappoint me. And, though it may take a few minutes to air out our different perspectives, I found the resulting work product from faculty/staff/administrator gatherings to be more balanced than that which emerged from any one group alone.

Ultimately, we either can find opportunities to work together in meaningful ways or perpetuate a conflict that simply does not help our students. Pretty easy choice there. I invite you to post your ideas below on how your institution fosters relationships between faculty and staff/administrators. We all could use more ideas!